Haunted Castle
  • Genre:
    • Platformer
  • System:
    • Arcade
  • Developer:
    • Konami
  • Publisher:
    • Konami
  • Released:
    • JP February 1988
    • US 09/22/1988
    • UK November 1998
Score: 65%

This review was published on 05/31/2017.

Haunted Castle is a side-scrolling platform video game developed and published by Konami for the arcade. It was originally released in Japan in February 1988, North America on September 22, 1988, and Europe in November 1998. Despite its name, this game is part of Konami's Castlevania series. The Castlevania series began on the Famicom and Nintendo Entertainment System in 1986 and 1987, respectively, with the first game simply being titled "Castlevania." A few months later, the MSX got a Castlevania game in the form of Vampire Killer. In 1987 and 1988, a proper sequel to the first game came out on the Famicom and NES, and it was called Castlevania II: Simon's Quest. That then brings us to Haunted Castle, which is the next Castlevania game to come out after Simon's Quest. All Castlevania games up to this point had come out on home platforms, but Haunted Castle was the very first time the series got an arcade release. In any case, while the graphics and music were mind blowing for the time, Haunted Castle fails to capture what made the original so great.

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The main antagonist for most of the Castlevania series is the dreaded Count Dracula. In Castlevania's lore, Count Dracula is an evil vampire who revives every 100 years to terrorize mankind, but someone from the Belmont family usually takes care of him using the Vampire Killer whip, a legendary weapon imbued with the power to kill, well, vampires. Haunted Castle begins in a time of peace, where Dracula is nothing more than a mere legend. During this peaceful time, a young couple named Simon and Serena got married at their village's local church. As the wedding bells rang, the couple was enveloped in happiness, awaiting their seemingly blessed future. Suddenly, the empty sky became cloaked in darkness, roaring with rolling thunder that shook the earth. It turns out that Dracula has once again risen from the dead, ready to mount another assault on humanity. For his first action, Dracula swoops in during the wedding and kidnaps Simon's bride. Now Simon must wield the Vampire Killer and kill himself a vampire.

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In Haunted Castle, you walk, jump, duck, and swing your weapon with reckless abandon. Speaking of, most classic Castlevania games have you armed with the Vampire Killer for the whole adventure, with power-ups that upgrade its strength and range found along the way. However, Haunted Castle does the unorthodox by having you ditch the Vampire Killer in favor of better weapons, like a morning star and even a sword. These weapons are dropped by predetermined enemies in the game, and once a new weapon is obtained, you'll remain equipped with it even upon death. You begin the game with the whip, but will get the morning star as early as stage two, and the sword is found earliest in stage three. Each one of these weapons is basically a straight upgrade, with the morning star being better than the whip, and the sword being the best weapon of all. Haunted Castle's weapon system is an odd design choice, but it ultimately doesn't affect much.

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A staple of classic Castlevania, sub-weapons make an appearance in Haunted Castle, albeit with some differences. Instead of getting them from breakable candles like you normally would, specific sub-weapons are obtained by killing specific enemies in each stage. Likewise, hearts, which again serve as ammunition for sub-weapons, are also obtained in this manner in Haunted Castle. Sub-weapons are still used by holding up and pressing the attack button, but Haunted Castle has some unique ones that aren't in most games in the series. For instance, there are bombs that explode on the ground when thrown, similar to the holy water from the other games, except worse. Then there's a bladed boomerang that goes straight, but doesn't come back. Another unique weapon is the torch, though it barely counts as unique, because it's basically another holy water replica, except it's better than the bombs. Only two sub-weapons from the other Castlevania games are represented here, such as the boomerang cross and pocket watch. The pocket watch still freezes everything for a bit, but the boomerang cross is different in that you send out a row of crosses instead of simply throwing one. Aside from the pocket watch being overpowered, there's nothing particularly wrong with this game's sub-weapons.

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There are six stages and they're all strictly linear jaunts through highly dangerous territory. A lot of the typical Castlevania environments are represented here, such as graveyards, underground caverns, and of course, the titular castle itself. Some sections are clever, like this one bit in the first stage where you must dodge bricks that fly out at you from a nearby structure. A bit further into the stage, a torch falls over and sets the grassy ground ablaze, forcing you to jump onto platforms for safety. However, the stage design mostly lacks the finesse of the other Castlevanias. Most stages place a greater emphasis on spamming you with swarms of enemies instead of giving you intricate layouts where the enemies work together with the environment. Haunted Castle's final stage is particularly bad, because it's an over minute long jog across a collapsing bridge as bats fly in your face. As a result of all that, the stage design in this game feels lazy.

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If you thought the original Castlevania was hard, then buckle up, bucko, because Haunted Castle is going to take you on a serious trip. Without being hyperbolic, Haunted Castle is a contender for the hardest Castlevania game in the series. Even though you can put coins into the arcade machine to get more credits, losing all your lives still sends you all the way back to the beginning, regardless of how many credits you have. Everything also does insane amounts of damage in the North American release, with most enemies in the first stage shaving off half of your life bar in a single hit! Suffice to say, the likelihood that you'll ever make it past the first stage is incredibly low, even if you're a skilled Castlevania veteran. The difficulty is to the point that it'll siphon away any possible enjoyment you could have with the game, unless you're a masochist. Strangely, the Japanese version is much easier, but even then, it's no walk in the park.

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Castlevania is a series filled with countless classics, but Haunted Castle isn't one of them. It's certainly part of the series, but it's far from a classic. What makes most of the classic Castlevania games so great is the stage design and balance, two things this game gets very wrong. Hallways filled with armies of foes, most of which are of the small and annoying variety; this is what passes as "stage design" in Haunted Castle. The real problem, however, is the absurd difficulty. If it weren't so hard, this game could have been halfway decent. Still, halfway decent is about as good as this game will get.

Word Count: 1,170

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